• Nishinippon Shimbun

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As a torch relay runner for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, second year junior high school student Teppei Miyata had planned to run near the Aso Bridge in his village in Kumamoto Prefecture, which collapsed during the April 2016 Kumamoto earthquake. Then the games were postponed to next summer, due to the worldwide spread of COVID-19.

“I wanted many people to see how the village had rebuilt itself,” said Miyata, 13.

But Michiko Goto, his 67-year-old grandmother who recommended he apply for the torch relay, is encouraging him to look on the bright side, noting that the postponement will allow him to run through the newly constructed Aso Bridge.

Miyata, who belongs to a track and fields club at Minamiaso Junior High School, is one of the best sprinters in the prefecture. He loves running, and thought taking on the torch relay would be something to look back on in the future. He passed the prefectural screening.

Goto pushed her grandson to apply because she wanted him to remember the scenery of the village that had changed following the earthquake.

In Minamiaso, 31 people lost their lives due to the disaster, including some who died days later. Local transportation infrastructures were heavily damaged, and the 206-meter-long Aso Bridge collapsed.

But Miyata suffered minimal effects — a broken window at his home — and his close friends were all safe.

“I wanted him to seize this opportunity to think properly about the earthquake, because the damage was relatively low,” said Goto.

In applying for the torch relay, Miyata wrote about his experience seeking shelter for a week at a junior high school in Minamiaso after the disaster. At the time, he was a fourth grader.

He has vivid memories of the faces of people who always thanked him when he joined voluntary efforts to distribute food and supplies there, despite the fact that they lost their homes or fallen ill.

The Olympic games were postponed just as Miyata had been thinking more about the earthquakes, with the approach of May 7 when he was slated to run the torch relay. At present, the runners are said to be unlikely to change before next year.

“I wanted my grandmother to see me running sooner rather than later,” said Miyata.

Nevertheless, Goto says she now has something to look forward to.

Four years have passed since the earthquakes, and the construction of the new Aso Bridge is going as planned, aiming to open by the end of March 2021.

Thinking there is a good chance that the bridge will be included in the torch relay route, Goto has high hopes that she may be able to watch her grandson running on the new bridge with the torch in his hands.

Moreover, she wants people all over Japan to know how the village is recovering from the disaster.

This section features topics and issues from the Kyushu region covered by the Nishinippon Shimbun, the largest daily newspaper in Kyushu. The original article was published on April 7.

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